Development fund set up for Churchill

The federal Western Economic Diversification (WD) department will put up $4.6 million for economic development work at and around Churchill, Man. after grain export operations were suspended at the town’s Hudson Bay port.

Navdeep Bains, the federal minister responsible for WD, announced the new fund Friday at Churchill, saying it will back “projects that grow sustainable revenue” in the area.

The fund would support the “creation of new opportunities in local strengths” such as tourism, Arctic research and “regional service delivery,” the department said in a release.

The department noted Churchill is a popular destination for viewing polar bears, belugas and other wildlife.

“Through this fund, I’m excited to see the innovative projects that people in this region bring forward to create quality jobs and sustainability in the region,” Bains said.

WD said it will oversee the fund and will work with the Manitoba government and area communities to “explore potential projects that would bring good-paying long-term jobs for the middle class families of the concerned communities.”

OmniTrax Canada, which since 1997 has owned the port facilities and grain terminal at Churchill and its rail line from The Pas, Man., announced in late July the port would accept no grain shipments this year and its employees would be laid off in August.

OmniTrax, a U.S.-based short line rail operator, said in December it received a letter of intent from a group of northern Manitoba First Nations for the purchase of the company’s Manitoba assets, but no deal has yet been reached.

Churchill’s ice-limited shipping season, typically July through October, has benefited from global warming in recent years, but warmer weather also makes its railway, much of which is built on permafrost, less stable.

The port’s catchment area for grain has generally run from Prince Albert in northern Saskatchewan east through Humboldt and Canora and into northwestern agricultural Manitoba, north from Swan River and Bowsman up to The Pas.

Grain and other cargo face an 1,100-km rail trip over heaving terrain to reach Churchill, but it’s still considered the most efficient export route for grain from its catchment area, allowing farmers to save on rail freight costs and avoid St. Lawrence Seaway charges.

OmniTrax has also previously estimated the railway is worth over $40 million a year as a supply line serving Canada’s North. The port can also handle general and breakbulk cargo, goods such as building supplies and machinery, liquid bulk goods such as fuels, and containers. — AGCanada.com Network

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